Stress and unhappiness can harm the heart by causing increased inflammation throughout the body and raising blood pressure. Long-term stress can also harm sleep, a key factor in heart and overall health. A new study published in the Journal of Personality has shown that choosing to prioritize fun and freedom over achievement and career goals may increase happiness and decrease stress, leading to better health and wellbeing.
The nine-day diary study included 184 participants and over 1,400 observations. During the study, participants completed questionnaires on value fulfillment and psychological wellbeing. Additionally, at the beginning of the study, participants completed questionnaires on their values, satisfaction with life, and negative and positive affects. The goal of the study was to determine whether fulfilling one’s values in life leads to greater wellbeing and how following different values might impact wellbeing.
The results showed that people who prioritized achievement over doing things they enjoyed were less happy on the following day. However, people who prioritized freedom had a 13% increase in wellbeing the following day. These people also recorded better sleep and had greater life satisfaction. People who prioritized their hobbies and tried to relax showed an 8% increase in wellbeing and a 10% drop in anxiety and stress.
The authors of the study noted that these results indicate that aiming for achievement does not benefit wellbeing, while aiming for fun and autonomy do show a measurable benefit. Aiming for freedom and enjoyment over achievement may ultimately make us more successful since these priorities will lead to greater happiness, relaxation, and satisfaction. Additionally, by decreasing stress hormones and inflammation, these priorities will likely improve our overall health and decrease our risk of developing inflammation-related maladies such as heart disease and cancer.